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Hot Docs 2015 Review: Stand by for Tape Back-Up

Stand by for Tape Back-Up runs the gamut from utterly engrossing to completely unwatchable. It’s wry and subversive, while sentimental and deeply personal, esoterically so.

This peculiar documentary pairs the director’s narration with the random programs and commercials found on a VHS tape that he and his grandfather would use over and over again. Those spliced images and scenes include The Fresh Prince of Bel Air¸ an odd game show, some ridiculous commercials, and a brief spot from Ghostbusters.

It’s all meant to be a synergetic pairing of seemingly randomly clips with emotional meaning and existential reflection. Ross Sutherland, with a smirk likely (though you never see him), scrolls forward and back through this tape, rewinding segments seemingly to no end in order to cull anything of importance while reminiscing about his grandfather.

For some of these scenes, it can be tiring – he goes back maybe one too many times. And with something like Jaws or Fresh Prince, if you’re a fan, then you may be disappointed when he doesn’t spend more time on it. Or that you’re not watching those instead. It’s so dry at times, so specific, it’s easy to wander off.

When the doc is on, though, when his incisive, acerbic poetry lines up so perfectly with the randomness on screen, the results are laugh out loud, guttural hilarity. For better and for worse, it’s unlike any other doc, more piece of artwork than film, more introspective than inviting.

[star v=3]

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.